Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Surveillance at will

On Surveillance in the Workplace

By UriHacohen - 30 April 2015

Not too long ago, it was reasonable to assume that only radical behavior in the net, like in the real world, will affect our status as employees. However, at the present time it is becoming apparent that even conservative activities in certain social networks, can result in the termination of employment. The practice of employees surveillance via certain social networks by the employers is not only present, but rather it is commonplace regarding both prospective employees and current ones. This practice has, de facto, become an industry standard. It is interesting to inquire how this standard will affect the behavior of users in these social networks.

In this short essay, I will first introduce the phenomena in its current framework. Second, I will provide the common normative opinions regarding this practice and finally I will suggest at least one positive outcome can be realized through this process: a public lesson on the true colors of certain social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

The Dimensions of the Phenomena

In an online survey conducted in 2014, it was reported that more than 90% of employment recruiters utilize social media profiles to servile and recruit prospective hires, vetting pre and post interview candidates. In the survey it was revealed that recruiters were searching certain social-medias to fill job openings in many areas, such as marketing, sales, IT, and engineering. This practice is considered by many justifiable, effective and conceivably within the scope of the law. This depends vastly on the state law, as many states implemented variations of social media privacy legislation.

To further, the standard of surveillance extends in many cases to current employees. In recent years many employers have requested (in some case insisted) that employees provide the workplace with access to their social media sites to ease the surveillance process. In some cases, although the employer did not request the employee directly for his social media login password, they had gain access through a variety of other methods: asking an employee to log on in the presence of an employer representative, requested the employee to "friend" a staff member or utilized third party applications to collect information from the employee's Facebook profile. In certain cases employers even manage their employees accounts (which at some cases may lead to property ownership disputes). Be that as it may, surveillance is accessible to all employers without any need for "hacking" due to massive amounts of personal data individuals leave openly on their profiles. These practices are becoming more and more commonplace, making social media an accepted part of the working environment.

What is the harm?

While some may point out the benefits employers get from surveilling their employees via social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, many focus on the destructive ramifications of any form of surveillance to privacy, freedom of speech, and to the trusting environment in the workplace. Legal support to these arguments is not always easy to formulate, especially when the employees themselves actively eradicating their own privacy by using such social platforms (many times during the course of their employment). When such is the picture, it is hard to define who is the hunter and who is the hunted; the surveilling employer or the tweeting employee.

Changing the behavior of users

One of the pressing problems regarding certain social medias is the user's false sense of privacy. ""Many applicants (falsely) believe they have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their social networking activity", and act accordingly.

Nowadays, when the practice of monitoring and surveilling prospective and current employees are something of a commonplace practice and industry standard, we can dare hope that gradually users will begin to realize that they should not add Facebook to their "friend's list"; The trend of growing surveillance in the working environment may discourage users from frequently using social platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

Moreover, when users wont expect privacy in propertarian social networks and thus stop using them as a primary channel for communication, a growing need for worthy alternative will hopefully emerge. Maybe then users will move to adopt open source alternative social platforms such as Diaspora,, and GNU Social.

Nevertheless, it is hard to predict users’ behavior, a study from last year suggested that it may be that even the most qualified of applicants will prefer to protect their current "convenience", even in cost of their prospect job. Further, a research from 2008 suggested that 39% current young employees would probably prefer to lose their job than to divorce Facebook.


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r3 - 29 Jun 2015 - 15:35:48 - MarkDrake
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